GOP Holds Senate Win as Florida Recounts End, Lawsuits Ebb

November 18, 2018 Updated: November 19, 2018

Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s victory in the race for a U.S. Senate seat is nearing official acknowledgment. The race already went through machine and hand recounts. A slew of lawsuits filed by Scott’s opponents is running out of arguments that would pack enough punch to flip the result.

After the hand recount concluded on Nov. 18, Scott still led by about 10,000 votes against the incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who conceded the race after learning the results.

President Donald Trump congratulated Scott via Twitter.

“From day one Rick Scott never wavered. He was a great Governor and will be even a greater Senator in representing the People of Florida,” he said. “Congratulations to Rick on having waged such a courageous and successful campaign!”

The Florida election results are to be certified as official on Nov. 20.

Hand Recount

The hand recount only checked overvotes and undervotes—ballots where people picked more candidates than allowed or didn’t mark a candidate in some races. There were about 93,000 such votes.

Nelson’s hope was that the vote-counting machines missed a lot of properly filled ballots for the Senate race in the heavily Democrat-leaning Broward County. About 25,000 more voted in the Governor race than in the Senate race in Broward County.

But the election workers determined otherwise, mostly seeing that Broward County voters really skipped the Senate race, according to Mother Jones’s Pema Levy, who observed the recount.

“Folks on the floor here in Broward seem to agree that the vast majority of ballots here are ‘no votes’ in the Senate race,” she said in a Nov. 16 tweet. “Bad news for Nelson, who needs to pick up thousands here. Not on track to do that.”

In the end, Nelson collected 410 more votes in Broward, while Scott had 136 votes added to his tally, The Miami Heard reported.

Also on Nov. 16, District Court Judge Mark Walker rejected demands in several lawsuits. One suit, by Nelson, demanded the state nix its rules for judging ballots with errors. Another, by the League of Women Voters, demanded that Scott recuses himself from election-related actions as a governor, the Sun Sentinel reported. Walker also dismissed (pdf) a demand that the deadline for mail-in ballots be extended 10 days beyond the election day, which is now only allowed for the overseas voters.

Scott is to be replaced in office by former Congressman Ron DeSantis, a Republican, who ended up nearly 34,000 votes ahead of Democrat Andrew Gillum after the machine recount. The lead represents a margin of 0.41, above the 0.25 percent threshold that triggers a hand recount.

Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, refused to concede after the recount, pointing to pending litigation that may still reshuffle a bit the rules for which votes should or shouldn’t be rejected. On Nov. 17, however, Gillum changed his mind and acknowledged DeSantis was the winner.

Troubled Election

The Florida election was riddled with law violations and signs of incompetence, if not fraud.

Scott had a judge rule in his favor in a suit that alleged that Susan Bucher, the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections (SOE), didn’t allow Scott’s campaign representatives to be close enough so they could monitor Bucher’s staff, who were copying damaged mail-in ballots.

Another judge also confirmed Scott’s allegation that Broward County SOE Brenda Snipes violated Florida public records laws. The county was two days late submitting its results for early and mail-in votes. In the few days after the election, Snipes also provided inconsistent answers on how many ballots were still left to count. Scott then alleged that Broward was “mysteriously finding more votes” to aid his opponent.

On the other side, Nelson had Judge Walker rule partially in his favor, acknowledging that Florida laws have deprived some people of the opportunity to prove the veracity of their rejected mail-in ballots. Those ballots were rejected for having signatures not matching the official record. Walker allowed some voters to confirm their votes by Nov. 17, while the standard deadline was Nov 5.

The judge rejected Nelson’s broader request to automatically accept all mail-in ballots with signature mismatches. There were perhaps 5,000 such rejected votes, the judge estimated.

Referred to Feds

On Nov. 9, the Florida Department of State requested federal prosecutors investigate cases where voters were provided with altered forms to verify their rejected mail-in ballots. The forms instructed people to submit them by Nov. 8, while the correct forms list the lawful deadline of Nov. 5.

Emails and other information released by the State Department as well as Naples Daily News indicated the Florida Democratic Party was spreading the altered forms.

The party was hoping a judge would postpone the deadline for the forms, an unnamed Palm Beach Democratic activist told the paper. Judge Walker indeed did so.

Making or using an altered State Department form is illegal under Florida law.

Update: The report has been updated with additional information regarding the results of the hand recount, a lawsuit relevant to the election, the results of the Senate race hand recount in the Broward County, the concession of their races by Andrew Gillum and Sen. Bill Nelson, and a comment of President Donald Trump. 

Correction: A previous version of this report misstated the name of Sen. Bill Nelson. The Epoch Times regrets the error.

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